How I learnt to (nearly) bowl the doosra
The final day of the South Australia versus West Indies match was supposed to be a red-letter day for the local spin twins, offie Ashley Mallett and leggie Terry Jenner. Opener Ashley "Splinter" Woodcock was standing in for our captain, Ian Chappell, and Splinter told all and sundry in the media overnight that the spinners would take his team to victory.
It was December 23, 1975. West Indies had scored just 188 and we had declared with eight down for 419. Not all went to plan in Splinter's spin strategy, though, for neither TJ nor I got a bowl before lunch and had to wait an hour to get on in the middle session.
I got left-hander Roy Fredericks caught at first slip by Gary Cosier, who rarely hung on to one in that position. Then I found myself trying to breach the seemingly impenetrable defence of the two incumbents enjoying a good fourth-wicket stand: Viv Richards and Lawrence Rowe. I vividly recall bowling two ordinary offies to Rowe, which he dismissed with all the energy and obvious joy of a headmaster whacking you with a full swipe of his cane.
It was then I hit on the idea of doing what I used to do as a youngster when my offbreaks were off the radar; I decided to bowl a legbreak.
The ball left in a song of spin, a fluttering-buzzing sound to gladden the ear. As it made its way towards the relaxed Rowe, it curved slightly to the leg side. I figured he would pick the change from my hand, but that didn't matter. He still had to play it. As it turned out, the ball landed in a bit of rough outside leg stump, Rowe attempted to sweep, missed the ball entirely, and it crept round the back of his legs, hitting middle and off stumps with just enough force to dislodge a bail.
TJ was at first slip and I waltzed down the pitch, spinning leggies from hand to hand, and said: "Mate, this legspin caper is a breeze. I think I'll stop right now."
And indeed, I never bowled another leggie in international cricket. Maybe I should have done.
I had always hoped to create a genuine hard-spun legbreak with an offbreak action. I could achieve it okay, but not by bowling it. It had to be thrown.
I remember a Perth grade match when our main spinner, a slow-medium offie, Ron Frankish, was operating to a right-hander, Fremantle's Brian Muggleton. From point, I watched the batsman work four balls in a row with the spin to midwicket. Along came the fifth ball and Muggleton went well back to try and penetrate the on side, shaping to hit with the spin. He was in perfect position to negotiate an offbreak, but this time the ball fizzed from the leg. It had pitched middle and leg and hit the top of off stump. We all knew Frankish had a decided jerk in his bowling arm. He was once called for an alleged throw when playing for Western Australia in 1948.
What if an offie could perfect the ball without actually throwing it?
Personally I decided early in my career that I couldn't achieve bowling a legbreak with an offbreak action unless I chucked it, so I gave the idea away.
What I did need was a ball that shaped away from the right-hand batsman to beat the outside edge. I discovered that if you held the ball the same as for an offbreak, but delivered it in such a way that the seam is pointing towards square leg, and the back of your hand facing yourself, it will react much the same way as a leggie's ball out the front of the hand does: it hits the pitch and skids on straight.
Having bowled offies and leggies as a kid helped me understand how the offspinner's "square" one reacted almost identically to the legspinner's front-of-the hand ball.
Mostly it worked for me. My last Test wicket in Australia was England's Graham Gooch, at the MCG in 1980. I decided to set him up with the square spinner, which came out nicely and upon pitching, skipped off straight. The next ball was an offbreak that turned through a huge gap between bat and pad.
As a coach, I have showed quite a few top-notch spinners this delivery, including Graeme Swann and Daniel Vettori, both of whom cottoned on straight away. Later I showed John Davison, who in turn, as Nathan Lyon's mentor, passed the knowledge on.
Since that Old Trafford Test match in 1956 when Jim Laker destroyed Australia, taking 19 for 90 for the game, offspin was the big attraction for me. Playing for Mt Lawley fourths in Perth grade cricket, I bowled offies and would keep bowling them until inevitably the day would come when they didn't bring enough wickets. So the next week I would bowl legbreaks.
When I was ten, my parents bought me a cricket book, entitled How to Bowl Them Out by Christopher Sly. In the section devoted to slow bowling there was an illustration of the grip for the offbreak. The index finger was to the left of the seam. The one-finger grip along the seam was the one I used until the day at the WACA nets when the coach of the WA Special Spin Squad, Tony Lock, advised me to change it.
He showed me how two fingers needed to be placed widely spaced so that I would have the advantage of spinning with both fingers. Lock said that the one-finger grip would be okay to continue to use as a variation, because often the ball didn't hit the wicket on the seam but would hit on the shiny part and skid straight on.
I learnt it was a good thing to vary how the ball was released: a topspinning offie, a little spin and undercut. However, I had no idea of the magic of flight.
Bob Simpson came to the club one day and I was asked to bowl to him. I was about 15 and had represented Western Australia in an interstate carnival in Adelaide, but bowling to Simpson was something else: it was akin to bowling to a barn door that had suddenly come alive and kept banging the ball back at me at the rate of knots.
I didn't dare bowl a leggie to Simpson, but I still practiced leggies in backyard "Tests". My older brother Nick always seemed to be batting and he was "Australia". I had to settle for "England". We wrote the team list and you had to bowl the same as the players. So if Laker was brought on, I would bowl offies, but if "Tich" Freeman was in action, I would bowl legspin.
In 1972 I finally caught up with Laker, my early hero, in England. He had a classic sideways action and bowled with a fairly high arm, although he seemed to undercut many of his deliveries, robbing himself of the dipping flight that other offspinners with high-arm actions, especially India's Erapalli Prasanna, achieved.
During a chat over a beer in a Nottingham pub, I asked Jim how he bowled his "away" ball. His normal offbreak grip involved spreading his index and middle fingers wide apart across the seam. For his away ball he changed his grip, having the seam run perpendicularly beneath his spinning fingers. Land the ball on the shiny side and it would often skid slightly away.
Everything changed for me when I wrote to Clarrie Grimmett, the great Australian legspinner between the wars. I knew Grimmett had played 248 first-class matches and had bagged no less than 127 hauls of five wickets or more in an innings. Perhaps if I travelled to see him in Adelaide, he might help me find a better pathway to success.
At that time I was playing first grade for Mt Lawley and would bowl tightly but never got many people out. At first I thought it was my lot: a good bowler out of luck. Then I realised no one could keep having that much bad luck. After two and half days on the train from Perth I arrived at Grimmett's home, where he had a full-sized wicket in the backyard.
I bowled to him and it hit the middle of his Jack Hobbs bat. He walked towards me and declared: "Give up bowling, son, and become a batsman. I could play you blindfolded."
I produced a handkerchief and he laughed as he put it over his horn-rimmed glasses. My second ball met the middle of his bat.
When he stopped giggling, Clarrie gave me the best coaching lesson of my life.
"I suspect you are not getting many wickets because you are one-hand, one-paced, and you are bowling a trajectory which follows a pathway all the way from your hand to the pitch, and every ball is beneath the batsman's eyeline."
He said that if I were to stand on a bridge overlooking a motorway, it would be easy to judge where a car would be in a second or two, "because you are looking down on things".
"From a batsman's perspective, if the slow man operates on a flat trajectory, below the eyeline all the way, as soon as the ball leaves your hand, he knows exactly where it will land and he will move to hit it hard."
"If you happened to walk onto the motorway and stand in a manhole - don't try this, son - it would be far more difficult to judge when the car was arriving. Similarly, if the ball arrives hard-spun and above the eyeline, the batsman doesn't know precisely where it will land."
Grimmett emphasised that the key to spin bowling - legspin and offspin - was how the ball arrived, not where it landed.
He learnt to bowl a googly (also known as "bosey" and "wrong'un") by reading a magazine article about a legspinner wheeling them down at the beach. The legspinner found when he bowled on the beach that his front foot sank a little and the ball flipped out of the back of his hand not in the traditional leggie's style, over the wrist.
Years ago I showed Geoff Lawson and Michael Kasprowicz the grip for the offbreak. Lawson wanted a different slower ball, so too Kasprowicz, who used his offie to great effect on the slow turning wickets in India.
WA and Test offspinner Bruce Yardley began his first-class career as a medium-paced bowler and hard-hitting lower-order batsman. As a medium-pacer his best ball was his change-up slower one, a hard-spun, dipping offbreak. He then switched to offspin and forged a successful Test career. All spinners must master the stock ball: hard-spun and dipping.
The more purchase on the ball, the greater the area of danger for the batsman. Shane Warne's area of danger was about as big as your average dining-room table, so too Muttiah Muralitharan's, for both men gave the ball an almighty rip.
In contrast, Ashley Giles, say, wasn't a big spinner of the ball, and his area of danger was about as big as a dinner plate. So Giles, in effect, had to be super-accurate compared with Warne and Murali - which, happily for him, he was; he fit in perfectly in the England Test team, building pressure as he held up one end for long periods and took key wickets.
Throughout cricket history there have been creative cricketers who have "invented" new deliveries such as the wrong'un, the flipper, the finger-flicked delivery (Jack Iverson), the square-spinner and the doosra. What I have loved about a few modern offies is that they have succeeded in finding ways to beat both sides of the bat other than by depending on natural variation or resorting to the doosra. Swann and R Ashwin are the two outstanding examples.
The possibilities of finding new and exciting ways of weaving a web over batsmen are never-ending.
Ashley Mallett took 132 wickets in 38 Tests for Australia. He has written biographies of Clarrie Grimmett, Doug Walters, Jeff Thomson, Ian Chappell, and most recently of Dr Donald Beard, The Diggers' Doctor